The Fascinating Role Of AI In Eradicating Vector-Borne Diseases

Seventeen year old innovator Gabrielle Wong is the creator of a software that measures mosquito density making it possible to warn at-risk areas in Kebbi, Nigeria of malaria outbreaks, proving just how effective AI can be as a force for positive change in our world.

As vector-borne diseases continue to pose a threat to human life, 17-year-old innovator Gabrielle Wong proves that AI can be a powerful tool in advancing our work in eradicating these deadly transmitted diseases. 

Wong is an accomplished high-school student, recipient of the Maxar Climate Mapping Challenge in the 2022 NFTE World Series of Innovation, and a passionate volunteer dedicated to creating a world where everyone can experience good health and wellbeing. 

With an academic interest at the intersection between anthropology and computer science, Wong is the creator of a unique software called GeoMosquito that is making measurable change in the Kebbi state of Nigeria, by examining mosquito density and predicting malaria outbreaks.
GeoMosquito is a machine learning software that leverages the vastness of satellite data in combination with acoustic sensors to detect mosquitoes,” Wong explains. Her work in this field is groundbreaking, especially considering the fact that although malaria is common in Nigeria, a lack of funding and research initiatives makes overcoming it a costly challenge.

When developing her software, Wong shares that she was surprised at just how little data there was on malaria in the state. “I would assume that Kebbi state, being one of the biggest rice producing states in Nigeria, would have a huge supply of data, but I was wrong. I think this shows just how much inequality there is between data collection methods,” she says.

“We have a lot of data surrounding urbanized places such as Hong Kong or the UK, but in rural areas in Nigeria, or Sub-Saharan Africa, you really can’t gauge how much viable data you have. Because it’s so rural, the collection methods are either too expensive to execute, too remote to execute, or just not viable given other factors.”

This is why GeoMosquito is so important. It’s helping communities adapt and better understand how to keep themselves safe when not many other resources are available.

“If we can develop some kind of sustainable solution for malaria, it can be applied to every other vector-borne disease and we can have a much better leg up in the future,” says Wong, whose software is patent-pending. 

Taking things a step further, Wong has also begun to explore how climate change is impacting mosquito populations and their ability to spread disease. “What will happen if the average surface temperature reaches 35 degrees? What new diseases can emerge from an increased heat change?” Wong probes. 

This has been a popular topic of discussion, and the focus of a study conducted by Stanford University which suggests that as the global temperatures warm, mosquitoes will roam beyond their current habitats, and shift the burden of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile virus. 

“As climate change increases temperatures globally, I’m sure that we will all start to feel the effects of more vector-borne disease transmission worldwide. It may not be today, tomorrow, or even next year, but it will be sometime in the future,” she says. “But if we continue developing applications like GeoMosquito at university and beyond, it can become a very accurate and very useful tool to help people when the time comes,” she adds.

Wong believes that organizations and institutes must begin collaborating to find the best technological solution to eradicating vector-borne diseases for good. “At the end of the day, technology can be a really powerful tool in advancing our work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and it can truly make an impact,” she says.

Wong is the founder of a non-profit organization called Discimus Foundation, through which she has launched 6 computer lab programs in 5 countries. She has presented her work at large global festivals such as the Women’s Forum For The Economy And Society and the UNESCO Learning Planet Festival, and is also the recipient of the 2023 Diana Award, the most prestigious accolade a young person aged 9-25 years can receive for their social action or humanitarian work. Wong was also recently selected to join the UNESCO Learning Planet Youth Council.